During a recent mission trip, I asked various leaders to share their faith stories with everyone.
The first night, our youngest adult leader, who graduated from college just a few short weeks ago, shared hers. Without a doubt, it was powerful – filled with the kind of experiences you’d expect of a twenty-something-year-old, yet relatable to high school students and full of Jesus.
Shortly afterward, one of my student leaders approached me. She was scheduled to give her testimony the next night and wanted to talk about it. I assumed this young leader – a soon to be high school sophomore – simply needed some last-minute encouragement about the testimony she’d written and prepared to give.
Instead, it quickly became clear to me that this student leader was actually panicking over her testimony. After hearing the first leader’s testimony, she’d convinced herself that hers wasn’t good enough. It didn’t feel like the other leader’s did, nor did it have the same format. Not to mention, according to her, the other leader’s stories were far more powerful than hers.
In that moment, it was clear this student leader was playing – and losing – the comparison game with this other leader.
So I did my best to calm her down. I then reminded her of the time and effort she’d put into preparing her testimony, forbade her from making any last minute changes to it, and asked her to trust that God would use her words in the lives of others.
Despite my words, she proceeded to argue with me, insisting she should change hers to better reflect the format used by the other leader.
To this I finally said, “I don’t need you to be HER. I need you to be YOU.”
Upon hearing that, my student leader promptly burst into tears, saying, “Thank you. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.”
As it turns out, what this student needed wasn’t just encouragement, it was permission to be herself and to tell her faith story in a way that uniquely reflected her personality.
Like this student leader, I wonder how many of our other students regularly play – and lose – the comparison game with others?
This week, how can you give students in your ministry permission to stop trying to live someone else’s faith journey and to instead, follow Jesus in their own unique way?